Star Wars 3D Falls Flat

Last night, I saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D—RealD, not Imax, which was showing Journey 2: The Mysterious Island instead. That Dwayne Johnson vehicle looks pretty bad from the trailers I've seen, but I bet the 3D is better than it is in the new Star Wars release.

Of course, Star Wars is a 2D-to-3D conversion, which can look dreadful (remember Clash of the Titans?), but it can also look very good (think Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland). I had high hopes that George Lucas would take the time and money to do it right.

Alas, no. For one thing, many scenes are not in 3D at all—I found I could have watched a good deal of the movie without the glasses. The title and opening back-story scroll do not gain depth as they recede until they are far in the background, where the depth is minimal. Some cityscape scenes and even shots of planets in space have no depth, though others do. Likewise, shots of spaceships from nearly head-on should have lots of depth, but they have none here, nor do most of the close-up shots of characters and their backgrounds.

What 3D there is comes and goes—for example, there is none in the crowd shots during the pod race and very little in the race itself, but there is depth behind the two-headed race announcer. And when it's there, it's very subtle. For the most part, nothing extends in front of the screen plane, and objects behind the screen plane are at roughly the same apparent distance, giving these shots a cardboard-cutout appearance. One of the only exceptions I saw was the shaft where Darth Maul falls to his death, which looked like it receded into the distance.

Lucas must have signed off on the conversion, but given his reported perfectionism and how protective he is of the Star Wars franchise, I'm shocked that he did. The 3D is generally so subtle, it adds very little to the experience, though I admit that might be better than trying to do an extreme 3D effect.

The ads say this is Star Wars like you've never seen it before, but that's a serious overstatement—it looked much the same to me. And of course, no amount of 3D can make Jar Jar Binks less annoying!

abentrod's picture

Was going this weekend to see Episode 1, will try Ghostrider instead.
As for Lucas's "perfectionism" i feel that died a long time ago. His other film Red Tails is faring poorly as well.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I actually enjoyed Red Tails, especially the dogfight scenes, which looked super-sharp, so I'm sorry to hear it's doing poorly.
Goyoishere's picture

I was debating seeing this movie. I'm a huge Star Wars fan and was hesitant to see it 1) because I like this part least, and 2) I'm not a big fan of the 3D trend. I'm glad to know so I didn't waste my money to see it. Also, I did see the Journey 2 movie, it was not good. Don't bother. Also Scott please don't hesitate to post your movie opinions in the future. It's good to hear to opinions of highly respected people in this business. Thanks again.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
And thanks for the warning about Journey 2. I wasn't planning to see it, though Tom Norton tells me he might, since it's in Imax 3D. I'm glad you find this type of post valuable; thanks for saying so!
Albert71292's picture

Just stopped to say the 3D prequels would have been a no-go for me anyway, since I didn't even like them in 2D! The original, unaltered trilogy however, are some of my favorite films!

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I agree that the original trilogy is far more appealing to me than the prequels. But do you want to see the original movies converted to 3D? I sure don't if they do it like this one!
curtiswhite's picture

Well I took my son to see this movie the first night. This was my first 3D movie in a long time. The last was jaws 3D with the red and blue glasses. Anyways, I was wildly disappointed . I much rather see this or another film in a nice 2D dlp presentation. My complaints are the film is dark due to the 3D. And some shots were to soft or out of focus . And can anyone tell me is the resolution the same as a 2D version? because it seemed like I was watching it on laser-disc quality . I am a big star wars fan but With this and the below par blu rays I don't think Lucas is concerned with quality anymore.

And due to this movie i agree with Leo that 3D is a gimmick. Just give me 4K so i can buy T2 yet another time .

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I'm sorry to hear that this was your first 3D since Jaws with anaglyph glasses; 3D can be MUCH better than this Star Wars travesty! Funny that you bring up Leo's opinion about 3D; I was thinking about his perspective all through this movie, how it's a perfect example of what he hates about 3D. But I encourage you to try again with a better 3D experience, such as Hugo or any of the Dreamworks 3D animated movies.
Paul 3D's picture

Thanks Scott. I Thought something was wrong at my local theater but it's the movie, good to know it's not the theater! love the movie, disappointed in the 3D conversion. The theater I was at showed it on a sony 4k projector. I'd love more 3d opinons!

Scott Wilkinson's picture
My local theater also uses Sony 4K projectors for RealD 3D, which uses RealD's XLS system to maximize the brightness, so it wasn't too bad in that regard. In my opinion, the best 3D is Imax, which uses two projectors, so it's brighter than any single-projector system. If you have an Imax theater near you, give that a try.
Josh's picture

It made me depressed I found the 3d to be alright but be a bit fuzzy the sound was horrible way to low this is not the way I remember seeing it in theaters it felt like I was doing time I walked out and waited for my family they like the 3d but said that this was the lowest sounding movie they had ever been too

LordVader's picture

Being a kid RAISED on Starwars...and at 36 still wearing the SW hoodie, and collecting the Lego sets...I was afraid that the I would be dissappointed, and boy was I. The 3D was barely even noticeable for a movie that was made in the digital realm. Sure it is a conversion of 2D, but it isn't even on the same PAGE as Avatar, or my favorite 3D so far...TRON. Those were far Superior. George is getting fat and lazy it seems. He could have knocked a homer with this run of movies, but it was lame at best.

They jumped the shark on this and that is truly sad. I was looking forward to making Starwars 3D the reason to tell my wife we needed a 3D projector. Now, I can't do that.

HardBoiled's picture

I think Phantom Menace was shot using film and was not made in the digital realm (unless you mean the cgi).

LordVader's picture

what I meant was, it was shot with the "best" tech at the time, and was not made for 3D. Therefore, it suffers from that. Of course it is CGI...probably 87%.

Kenny Kraly Jr.'s picture

I would go see Star Wars Episode 1 in 3D but the problem is where I live at in ohio a small area in the state where I live at their are no 3D movie theaters and their not even playing episode 1 in 2D. What a shame. We need more 3D movie theaters in small city's as well as big ones.

notabadname's picture

I really though Lucas would spend the effort and time to upgrade his multi-billion dollar franchise. I knew that even as I bought the complete saga on blu-ray that it would be a temptation to buy it on the eventual 3D blu-ray release. Temptation gone. He has finally ended the need to continually upgrade the collection (VHS - multiple releases, DVD, blu-ray then eventual 3D).

But I am disappointed. Really thought he would keep this cow healthy for further milking.

baxter99's picture

Just Lucas squeezing more money out of mediocre movie. I'm amazed he has such a large following although American Graffiti[1973]is one of my favorites.

utopianemo's picture

I helped a friend camp out for tickets during the initial run of Episode I, and since seeing that film Lucas's notion of quality film-making has only worsened, in my opinion. It's gotten so bad that after the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I made a T-Shirt that reads, "George Lucas Hates Us.". I still wear it and on occasion I've had requests to make them for others. Thus I had no desire to see a regurgitation of Episode I, no matter how good the 3D might have been(turns out I won't be missing anything).

When Spielberg's "Minority Report" came out in theaters, Lucas apparently gave him a ribbing for not shooting the film with digital cameras. I remember thinking to myself that Lucas would do well to focus even half as much attention on plot, dialogue, and character development as he did on effects and tech advancement.

Godzilla56's picture

Yes you are totally correct. This was the worst 3D I have seen yet, in other words virtually NO 3D for a movie that was supposed to be a new great experience. I feel ripped off. I wont bother with the others in the series, since this is simply criminal. This is an insult to all movie fans and should not even be marketed as a 3D movie. The format will not gain traction with shoddy products like this.

unisenmedia's picture

As a huge Star Wars fan this is disappointing. I expected much more from Lucas, but I suppose i shouldn't after all the changes he made to the original Star Wars movies on Blu-ray.

lennyporcano's picture

I was thinking about checking this film out, but it sounds as if there are better things to see.

wehmig's picture

While the actual exploits of the 99th FG and, for that matter, all of the Tuskeegee Airmen were a shining example of what people can do when
stupid and outdated prejudices are at least partially overcome, Lucas made up a great deal of specious history that actually diminishes the value of their true actions. Come on, you cannot create history, it happened or it did not. Most of what he showed did not.

David Vaughn's picture
I'm glad I didn't waste my money.
frankland7's picture

I was so excited about the 3D Star Wars conversions, mostly because I was hoping that it would help the 3D trend to keep moving. I am shocked that someone with George Lucas' reputation would not do a great job on such a high-visibility project. I am a BIG 3D fan. I own an LG 65LW6500 65-inch passive 3DTV, and I really want to see more content released. It is already sad that broadcast television has not aired any 3D programming.

Maybe the London Olympics will help!

lotusguy's picture

I saw "Phantom Menace" yesterday having already read Scott's review and expecting the worst. It certainly was not among the best 3D movies around right now (see Hugo and Pina for outstanding use of 3D), but it was not as bad as "Clash of the Titans." I am a big 3D fan and I immediately notice poor product whether it was shot in 3D or converted. This conversion was definitely on the conservative side, i.e. it did not feature massive depth or objects through the plane of the screen. This was probably done so that viewers would not complain of headaches or eyestrain. There certainly were scenes where depth seemed to disappear entirely, but most of the scenes were rendered realistically. The real disappointment (other than the terrible story and flat acting) was the lack of depth in the scenes incorporating a star field. These were uncharacteristically flat. Lucas and ILM could have done better with the conversion. We will have to see what James Cameron does with "Titanic."

Scottyb09's picture

The only movies I have interest in seeing in 3D are those which were originally shot in 3D. I have yet to see something aside from 'Avatar' which has amazed me, although I have yet to watch 'Hugo' on my new Elite...